Bomb Girls: Top Ten World War II Movies
05.03.14 by Ryan
Bomb Girls is back! REELZ's award–winning, World War II-era series returns this month in the two-hour original movie Bomb Girls: Facing the Enemy and will likely answer all the nagging questions left over from the second season finale. To get in the mood, we thought we'd look back at our favorite World War II movies before Bomb Girls: Facing the Enemy debuts on Monday, May 26th at 9p ET/ 6p PT.
Of course, you can also catch up with past episodes of the show every Sunday at 11a ET/ 8a PT or binge-watch the entire series on Memorial Day weekend, but, however you want to prepare, make sure you check out our list of the Top 10 World War II movies first.
Get Those Dancing Shoes Ready
This is the movie your father or grandfather has likely told you that you need to watch and, for once, they are right. Long before he was Obi-Wan Kenobi, Alec Guinness played the Geneva Conventions-waving Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson, the senior British officer amongst a group of British POWs tasked with building a railroad bridge over, you guessed it, the River Kwai. Like many World World II movies, The Bridge on the River Kwai is based on a novel, but this time it's not based on an actual event, though the construction of the Burma-Siam railway was instructed by prisoners of war. And like many other World War II movies about POWs, the prisoners are planning a surprise for their captors.
Quentin Tarantino borrowed the title of his first World War II movie from the 1978 Italian movie The Inglorious Bastards, though the Tarantino's movie is not a remake, following a group of Jewish American soldiers led by Brad Pitt and a French cinema owner's attempt to bring down Nazi leadership. And while Tarantino imagines a fictional universe where Adolf Hitler is shot to death in a burning movie theater, the movie's primary adversary is the Nazi soldier Hans Landa, played by Christoph Waltz. Charming yet menacing, intelligent and brutal, Landa is the perfect Tarantino villain, which is saying something considering his movies usually follow criminals, assassins or drug dealers as the primary characters. "I told my producers I might have written a part that was un-playable," Tarantino said of the role to Variety in 2009. "I said, I don’t want to make this movie if I can’t find the perfect Landa, I’d rather just publish the script than make a movie where this character would be less than he was on the page. When Christoph came in and read the next day, he gave me my movie back."
It's a good thing too, or audiences would have been robbed of one of the more enjoyable yet brutal World War II movies ever made.
Not exactly the most historically accurate World War II movie of all time, but Captain America: The First Avenger still hits all the right notes, taking the patriotic but physically weak Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and turning him into a super-soldier that can help fight the forces of evil in World War II. Considering the character's comic book origin originated during World War II, it's only fitting that The First Avenger was set in the time period, even if Cap is mostly hunting down the Red Skull, Adolf Hitler's head of weaponry, and not punching Hitler in the face as he was depicted in 1940's Captain America Comics #1. Still Cap's fight against the Red Skull and the sinister organization of Hydra still hangs a shadow over the sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, proving that Cap, despite being frozen and then thawed in modern times, is not only a product of his time but ultimately defined by it, a classic World War II movie character trait.
Perhaps one of the best casts ever assembled for any movie, The Dirty Dozen brought together Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, Telly Savalas and more for a story about a commanding officer (Marvin) who assembles a group of military prisoners together for a suicide mission on a French chateau held by Nazi soldiers. Based on a novel that was perhaps inspired by a real group of soldiers called "the Filthy Thirteen," The Dirty Dozen is one of the more adrenaline-fueled, men-on-a-mission movies set during World War II. In fact, the movie was criticized for its violence upon release, but then, as Marvin points out in the movie: "I never went in for embroidery, just results." The Dirty Dozen wouldn't be the last to resist sugarcoating the violence of WWII.
To say that Steven Spielberg is interested in World War II is only putting it mildly. Outside of the Indiana Jones movies where Nazis usually played the role of the primary villain, Spielberg made his first World War II drama with 1987's Empire of the Sun and would return in 1993 with Schindler's List, finally winning that elusive Oscar gold. Based on the the book Schindler's Ark, the movie follows German businessman and Nazi party member Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), who saved the lives of 1,200 Jews from concentration camps all over Poland and Germany by employing them in his factories. The girl in the red jacket, as well as Schindler's closing speech, are iconic moments in cinematic history, but it's Spielberg's deft handling of the horrors of the holocaust are what make Schindler's List one of the definitive World War II movies ever made.
Ok, so maybe The Grand Budapest Hotel is set in the fictional (European?) country of the Republic of Zubrowka in the years leading up to World War II with the fascist army outfitted in the letters "ZZ" instead of "SS," but the movie does more than hint at the actual global conflict, it takes the entire experience and rolls into one for narrative purposes. "Part of why I feel the impulse to re-imagine [the time], rather than just do it [more literally], is because it's been done so many times before; this is such familiar historical territory," writer-director Wes Anderson explained to NPR. "You know, the reason I want to engage with it is because this series of events in Europe are somehow still right in the middle of our lives."
The result is vintage Wes Anderson, working in his familiar dynamic of a pupil and master in a story about a hotel lobby boy and his association with the concierge (Ralph Fiennes). Arguably Anderson's best work so far, the movie ambles between high comedy and serious drama at a breakneck pace, all the while tempering the movie with an over-arching grimness that comes from the settings loose association with World War II and the likely ill fate of the characters. And like other World War II movies, there's plenty of innocent deaths and even an attempted prison break.
Many World War II movies have a lot of cool moments, but only The Great Escape has Steve McQueen launching himself over a barb-wire fence while riding a stolen, Nazi motorcycle. Based on the book of the same name that depicted a real-life escape of British soldiers from the Stalag Luft III POW camp, the movie took huge liberties with the original story, not the least of which was making McQueen and James Garner's characters the leaders of the escape when no American soldiers were involved. However, the resulting movie is one of the most entertaining war movies of all time, and cemented McQueen as a box office superstar. An avid racing enthusiast, McQueen was not, in fact, the one to make the famous motorcycle leap, though he would do a certain amount of stunt driving in 1968's Bullitt.
After a twenty-year absence, The Thin Red Line marked Terence Malick's return to directing in what is one of the more powerful and beautiful World War II movies ever made. Based on the novel by James Jones, The Thin Red Line followed a company of soldiers trying to take the Guadalcanal Island from the Japanese. While actors like Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson and George Clooney showed up for Malick's re-emergence, the movie belongs to Jim Caviezel, whose performance apparently inspired Malick to alter the movie greatly during the editing process. Just ask Adrien Brody, who was cast as a lead in the movie only to see his performance whittled down to a few lines (he'd get his revenge earning an Oscar for 2002 World War II drama The Pianist). Plus, it could have been worse. Actors Mickey Rourke, Billy Bob Thornton and Bill Pullman were all cut out entirely from the finished movie, making way instead for Malick's poetic vision of a Eden enveloped in the fog of war.
In Bomb Girls: Facing the Enemy, the ladies at Victory Munitions are working to make sonar systems to help find German U-boats, which happen to be at the center of Das Boot. Director Wolfgang Peterson would go on to make Hollywood movies like Air Force One and The Perfect Storm, but got his break in America by tackling a story about German U-boat soldiers both hunting and being
hunted by Allied forces. The movie was a window into what the other side experienced in World War II, particularly through Jurgen Prochnow's powerful performance as the Captain who must lead his inexperienced crew through the claustrophobia and horrors of working on an U-boat despite most of them not being especially loyal to Hitler. But politics isn't at the heart of Das Boot; survival is, particularly in the movie's most harrowing sequence, where the submarine must plunge deeper and deeper to avoid being blown up by depth charges.
For those that didn't fight in World War II, there's no way to experience it firsthand. But in Saving Private Ryan's first twenty minutes, Spielberg does his best to place viewers into the action of D-Day, in a sequence that has been hailed as one of the best in cinematic history. The whole thing took two months to shoot, and is only the beginning of a journey through one of the most brutal wars in history as it follows a small squad of Army rangers searching for a single soldier who is to be sent home. The movie is a testament to the sacrifice of the soldiers of World War II as Tom Hanks and his squad see rescuing Ryan as a means of redemption, one they are willing to lay down their lives to achieve. There may be no other movie that captures the gritty brutality of war while balancing the humanity of the soldiers involved, which is what makes Saving Private Ryan such an achievement.